Joe Trippi is one of the most sought-after political strategists and an enduring figure on the presidential campaign circuit. He worked for Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart and turned Howard Dean into an unlikely front runner in 2004.
A former Silicon Valley consultant, Trippi was the first political operative to appreciate and then realize the potential of the internet, and as such the strategy, tactics and tools he created in 2004 have become the foundation for the many of the successful campaigns of today and tomorrow.
I wanted to share a piece a wrote remembering journalist Michael Hastings, who died in an accident last week, that I wrote for The New Republic.
I was on my way to Baghdad. I was supposed to go in quietly and not be seen. My personal safety depended on my getting into an enclosed compound in the red zone without anyone knowing I was there.
But when I landed at Baghdad International, with its three riddled and dilapidated gates, there was a problem with my visa. The two Iraqi visa officers accused me of trying to enter the country illegally and ordered me deported.
So there I was, sitting under armed guard in terminal C, waiting to be put on the next plane out. I was working my cell phone and contacts, in an attempt to figure a way out of my predicament, when I heard someone yell out behind me, “Joe Trippi! What are you doing here?”
After many people asked me if I agreed with Karl Rove’s challenge at the time Ohio was called for Obama on Tuesday night, I wanted to make sure my memory was correct. Here’s the transcript:
WALLACE: Now, Joe, we know Karl has a rooting interest. I think, at this point, he’s telling us the facts. But you don’t have a rooting interest for Mitt Romney. What do you think?
JOE TRIPPI: Look, when I had my last contact with the Obama folks, they thought that Florida was their best shot, that Virginia looked the shakiest and that Ohio, they were — they thought they were going to win but less sure of. And so you know — but when you look at these counties, you look at Hamilton County, Obama’s been winning it. There is still a lot out there. So I understand what Karl is saying, but if you look at some of these counties that are still left out there, there are votes, a lot of votes, left for Obama that could outnumber some of these suburban counties.
WALLACE: Could, not has.
TRIPPI: Well, but if the Decision Desk has looked at those and is looking at key precincts in those counties and projecting, that’s what they do. And we haven’t been able to go in and do that yet.
When we started reading The Price of Politics last month we knew that the presidential race was going to end up being close but that Obama held an edge in the national polling and in most of the important swing states.
Now after the debates (with the last one taking place tonight in Florida) we still know that the presidential race is going to end up being close, but you can no longer say that Obama has the edge. You can dig through the polling data that’s coming out of the swing states and see that this race is within a point or two, and something less than a point, in almost every case.
It’s really that close.
But there are still clear advantages that Obama has in the race.
First, the demographics of the electorate. There are more Millennial voters this election than in 2008- and they still heavily favor Obama. There are more Hispanic voters this election than in 2008- and they heavily favor Obama.
Second- it’s about organization and the ground game- especially now that the debates are over. It’s get out the vote time- and over half the country is already voting with early voting. I’ve been saying this all year but it really makes the biggest difference- and the Obama campaign has a significant advantage with the organization.
Third- it’s the network. It’s now or never time for all of the data mining that the campaigns have been doing for months (or in Obama’s case, for years). Obama has a clear advantage in how all this data is used to get out the vote in the final 2 weeks.
So while the polls, there are other advantages that are harder to measure.
We knew when we picked our September book club selection, Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics” that the book was the talk of the town in Washington.
What we didn’t know is that it would feature prominently in a new Romney campaign ad.
On Sunday, the Romney team released “Mute Button” which takes a scene in The Price of Politics and asks “if the President cannot even lead his own party, how can he lead America?”
Watch the ad below:
Here’s the background.
During the debt ceiling negotiations last summer the President was regularly in communications with Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. As we’ll read in the book, Woodward describes how Pelosi was in a private meeting with Reid, which President Obama called into. In the midst of an “uplifting speech,” from Obama, Speaker Pelosi is alleged to have “hit the mute button, went on with their meeting, ignoring the President, not even listening to what he had to say.”
Now Pelosi disputes this, saying last week “That didn’t happen” and she released a statement after the Romney ad which said “As speaker and as Democratic leader, any call from the president would be treated with great formality and respect.”
Here’s what I think.
We know the negotiations were heated and there was a lot of back and forth. Whether the “mute button” story is true or not, hitting the mute button is nothing compared to leaving the American people in limbo and walking away from the negotiations themselves. (which Speaker Boehner did).
The real question here is why the Romney campaign decided to pick up on this anecdote and incorporate it into a TV ad. Will it work?
Maybe- if they were able to fit it into a larger story. But their campaign’s message is all over the place. From attacking the President on foreign policy, to saying he isn’t a leader of his own party, to the latest argument they’re making today, saying he is weak on China. The one thing they’re not talking about that much is the economy- jobs- which should be central to their campaign, and which you would would think is their winning argument.
Yes- it’s true that one story, one anecdote, one phrase regardless or what percentage of truth is in it- can be taken by a presidential campaign and worked into a TV ad. It’s a reminder of how anything you say (or do) in politics can always come back to haunt you. (Romney has a lot of experience in this, as we’ve seen.). But it has to fit into some kind of larger narrative.
Romney’s 47% comments did. It was exactly the picture that the Obama campaign had been painting since the end of the GOP Primaries- of a rich man who is aloof and out of touch with the average American.
The Romney argument against Obama- including in this ad- just isn’t as clear.
We’ll see as we go forward reading Woodward’s book over the next two weeks if there are any more scenes from the book that make their way into the campaign trail. Maybe one candidate will use some of what’s reported in the upcoming debates?
Finally- I wanted to say congratulations to those who retweeted and shared our promotion last week- and won free copies of the ebook. Welcome to the book club and we look forward to having you join in our discussion. So- tell me- what do you think of the Romney strategy in the “Mute Button” ad. I’ve told you what I think- now I want to hear from you.
If you haven’t already joined our Copia discussion. Here’s how you can do it:
1/ Sign-Up: If you haven’t already created a free account on TheCopia.com, you can sign up at thecopia.com/trippi.
2/ Download the book: Once you create your account, you’ll need to do two things in order to read the book along with us. You need to download an app or reader from Copia. (Instructions at: http://www.thecopia.com/about/applications.html) and then you need to download our book. Just search in the library for “The Price of Politics” and click download. This is the only way that you’ll be able to see my in-page comments.
3/ Join the Discussion: All of the discussion questions will be posted in my group on thecopia.com.
Every once in a while, a book comes out that everyone seems to be talking about in Washington, for better or worse. More often than not, the author of that book is Bob Woodward. And this week, it happened again. Woodward’s new book The Price of Politics is the talk of the town. It was only last summer when Speaker Boehner and President Obama’s “Grand Bargain” negotiations collapsed and we came closer than ever to national default. This book goes behind the scenes and exposes the crisis in dramatic detail.
What better choice for the next title in my Copia online book club? It’s the third book we’re reading since we launched the club in July. And to kick things off, we’re partnering with Copia to give away free copies.
But you have to be a member of Copia- and of our book club- in order to win. Sign up at thecopia.com/trippi today.
Thanks to Tulsi Gabbard for her kind words on Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC last weekend. As I’ve said earlier, Tulsi is one of the best candidates and communicators we have worked for, and her team was as hard working and disciplined as Tulsi. We’re very proud to be working with Tulsi, and to have helped her overcome a more than 40 percent deficit to win her primary.
Video of the segment on “Up” is below (2:40 mark) and the transcript below. Thanks, Tulsi!
“My media consultant was Joe Trippi. We had many heated debates throughout the campaign about what to do, what not to do but I give him so much credit because he saved me from myself many times. And he also came up with ads — you were talking earlier about the difference between good ads and not so good ads. People have come up to me and told me, you know, I was brushing my teeth and I saw your ad come on, and I actually stopped brushing my teeth because it caught my interest … and I really wanted to listen and hear what you had to say.”
Last week we read the first part of Tom Mann & Norm Ornstein’s new book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” and asked the question: who’s to blame for the current acrimony and dysfunction in Congress. Everyone knows it’s there- and its gotten worse in the past few years. The discussion on the Copia page and on Twitter has been good. Predictably the partisans blame the other side. That’s to be expected. But the real question that emerged was whether the well has become too poisoned for either party to really take control and get stuff done again. What I’m saying is- and this is the really big concern if you talk to people in Washington right now- that regardless of who wins the election, Obama or Romney, the other side is just not going to allow for anything to get passed, for nothing to be accomplished. In fact, it will get even worse.
Which leads into this week’s discussion- and the second half of the book, which we’re reading this week. What to do about it. What I like about Mann and Ornstein is that they don’t just take the rosy answers you sometimes hear and run with it. They don’t say “we need a third party”- a nice idea, but as we saw with the failed Americans Elect effort, it’s no easy feat. They don’t say “take all money out of politics” again it’s a nice idea but it’s not going to happen overnight. Instead they really look at the problem and say, ok, what are the 1, 2, 3 things that we could do- today- and maybe with a little bit of work get the other side to come with us- that would really make a big difference.
This week as we’re reading the second section and finishing up the book- keep these questions in mind. Do you agree with the authors that there are actions all of us can take to help turn things around? Things like using our networks to force change in the political climate, working towards recreating the public square where there is genuine forum and debate among people, and getting former members of Congress involved in almost a “shadow Congress” to continue discussion and debate even when their terms are up? Also- continuing the question from last week- do you agree that it’s the Republican party that must change first if our democracy truly is going to regain it’s health? That’s a bold argument that’s made towards the end of the final chapters- but it’s maybe the post important in the book.
Keep this in mind as you read this week. Then we’ll wrap things up with a final discussion post early next week- just as the Republican Convention is getting underway in Tampa.
Join or log on to your account on TheCopia.com to read along and join the discussion:
1/ Sign-Up: If you haven’t already created a free account on TheCopia.com, you can sign up at thecopia.com/trippi.
2/ Download the book: Once you create your account, you’ll need to do two things in order to read the book along with us. You need to download an app or reader from Copia. (Instructions at: http://www.thecopia.com/about/applications.html) and then you need to download our book. Just search in the library for “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” and click download. This is the only way that you’ll be able to see my in-page comments.
3/ Join the Discussion: All of the discussion questions will be posted in my group onthecopia.com.
4/ Read With Us: Last week (August 14-20) we read until page 85 (Part I: The Problem). This week (August 21-27) we’ll read the rest (Part II: What to Do About It).
If you have any questions or have an idea for the club, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.